Scientific research on communication has been undertaken since the first half of the 20th century. Communication can be defined as the process of transmitting information and common understanding from one person to another (Keyton, 2011). The word communication is derived from the Latin word “ communis” which means common. The definition underscores the fact that unless a common understanding results from the exchange of information, there is no communication. Two common elements in every communication exchange are the sender and the receiver.
The sender initiates the communication. In a school, the sender is a person who has a need or desire to convey an idea or concept to others. The receiver is the individual to whom the message is sent.
The sender encodes the idea by selecting words, symbols, or gestures with which to compose a message. The message is the outcome of the encoding, which takes the form of verbal, nonverbal, or written language. The message is sent through a medium or channel, which is the carrier of the communication. The medium can be a face-to-face conversation, telephone call, e-mail, or written report. The receiver decodes the received message into meaningful information. Noise is anything that distorts the message. Different perceptions of the message, language barriers, interruptions, emotions, and attitudes are examples of noise.
Finally, feedback occurs when the receiver responds to the sender’s message and returns the message to the sender. Feedback allows the sender to determine whether the message has been received and understood. The elements in the communication process determine the quality of communication. A problem in any one of these elements can reduce communication effectiveness (Keyton, 2011).
For example, information must be encoded into a message that can be understood as the sender intended. Selection of the particular medium for transmitting the message can be critical, because there are many choices. For written media, a school administrator or other organization member may choose from memos, letters, reports, bulletin boards, handbooks, newsletters, and the like. For verbal media, choices include face-to-face conversations, telephone, computer, public address systems, closed-circuit television, tape-recorded messages, sound/slide shows, e-mail, and so on. Nonverbal gestures, facial expressions, body position, and even clothing can transmit messages. People decode information selectively. Individuals are more likely to perceive information favorably when it conforms to their own beliefs, values, and needs (Keyton, 2010).
When feedback does not occur, the communication process is referred to as one-way communication. Two-way communication occurs with feedback and is more desirable. The key for being successful in the contemporary school is the ability of the school administrator to work with other school stakeholders (faculty, support staff, community members, parents, central office); and develop a shared sense of what the school/school district is attempting to accomplish – where it wants to go, a shared sense of commitments that people have to make in order to advance the school/school district toward a shared vision and clarity of goals.Effective principals know how to communicate, and they understand the importance of ongoing communication, both formal and informal: faculty and department meetings; individual conversations with parents, teachers, and students; and telephone calls and e-mail messages with various stakeholder groups.
The one constant in the life of a principal is a lot of interruptions – they happen daily, with a number of one- and three-minute conversations in the course of the day. This type of communication in the work of the principal has to be done one on one – one phone call to one person at a time, one parent at a time, one teacher at a time, one student at a time; and a principal needs to make time for these conversations.